Six words for you, friend: book a flight to Belgrade. Now.
My friends and I fell–hard–for the vibrant capital of Serbia. From the moment Leah and I were whisked away from the airport by our Airbnb host Dejan for a midnight driving tour of the city, our eyes drooping from exhaustion yet still desperately seeking more, we were enamored. And when he finally dropped us off at our apartment and into the flailing arms of an ecstatic Cassandra, who'd been living in Sarajevo for a month, she regaled us with her own detailed observations of a buzzing Belgrade in the daytime (she had arrived earlier that afternoon).
The final member of our travel squad wouldn't be arriving for another 24 hours, so we squeezed onto one bed, held each other's hands tightly, and told stories into the night, sometimes shushing each other, sometimes threatening "last to fall asleep is the first to pay for coffee tomorrow!" but ultimately bursting into fits of giggles whenever all went silent. At around 4am, we somehow managed to drift off to sleep, only to be wakened a few hours later by the sunshine. We threw open the windows and were greeted by this view:
After a fair bit of primping, we were finally off to our first adventure!
Last July, Cassandra and I had a 10-hour layover in Belgrade on our way to Santorini. Long story short, we shared a pre-packaged dark chocolate Moritz Eis ice cream pushed to the back of a takeaway fridge in an airport restaurant and were surprised to discover that it was one of the best bites of ice cream we'd ever tasted.
We swore up and down that we'd return to Belgrade someday to try it fresh.
Apparently, we wasted no time accomplishing that goal! As luck would have it, there was Moritz Eis a few blocks away from our apartment (no, that had nothing to do with why we chose that particular apartment... *wink*)
Cassandra, Leah, and me with my nose smushed against the glass trying to pick a flavor:
As earth-shattering as we remembered.
My personal favorites: the blueberry mascarpone (so creamy!) and the hazelnut. Plus these two cherries on top:
Keen to preemptively fend off jet lag, we strolled through the Dorcol neighborhood, in search of caffeine. We passed by livelier fare, wanting something lazier, quieter. This first day we had reserved for a slow and steady familiarization with Belgrade, after all.
We found exactly what we were looking for at Kafe Knjizara Meduza, a nondescript cafe-library down a quiet residential street lined with towering trees that provided plenty of shade. It carried a locals-only vibe that we savored. As the other patrons flipped through the day's newspapers, we cracked open brand new travel journals and sipped our cappuccinos happily.
Feelings and first impressions properly documented, we were off to explore some more.
Kalemegdan Fortress, we have arrived!
This Belgrade fortress is surrounded by a park reminiscent of Central Park, and looks off into the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Its crumbling walls are a visual reminder of the sheer amount of history that it's observed. It's always a mind-trip being in Europe and being faced day-in-day-out with structures that are much older than our country, and stories that hail from times and places that are difficult to imagine.
Giddy with glee at a schedule unencumbered by anything other than to do whatever we desire, we pranced through the fortifications:
And then clambered atop the ridge of the fortress in order to admire the view.
Wouldya look at that. The merging of two great rivers, Roman ruins casually amidst sprawling, verdant lawns and Communist-style buildings across the way.
Truly, truly a beautiful scene.
Promising ourselves that we'd be back the next day with Hanna in tow, we sauntered off to Kafana Question Mark to fuel up. The oldest traditional tavern in Belgrade, it's a recognized landmark in town. We shared a huge platter of prosciutto, kajmak, and cheese with buttery "cornbread" and a roasted red pepper sauce. At about $14, it was by far the most expensive meal we'd have in the city. Although really tasty, I'd recommend only grabbing a cup of coffee here, and then saving your dinar for a more extensive meal elsewhere.